Elsecar by the Sea weekend, 2nd-3rd September 2017


Another year flies around and suddenly it’s the first weekend in September once again. Time for the Elsecar by the Sea festival.

A community gala, a great beer festival and a weekend of public activities, including railway trips, live music, entertainers and fairground rides all celebrating the promenading wonders of Elsecar by the Sea.

The origins of the celebration date to the turn of the Twentieth century when the summer charms of Elsecar’s reservoir were promoted to Sheffield city dwellers as a ‘seaside’ escape from the industrial grime and smog.

Oh we do like to be beside the… Res

Starting with the Barnsley CAMRA beer festival taking place in Milton Hall from Thursday to Saturday,

followed by the community gala in Elsecar Park, the weekend was capped off with events at the heritage centre, including a craft fair in the Ironworks, local heritage displays, fun fair rides, live music and and street entertainers.

Elsecar thronged with people of all ages coming together to relax and enjoy the joys of the village.

Mapping out the fun

Meanwhile, back at the ranch

The Friends of Hemingfield Colliery gathered for a Saturday Open Day and working party to continue the work on site.

Arriving in sunshine, the regular volunteers Nigel, Alan, John and Ian were greeted by Site Manager Glen and Friends Chair Steve.

Starting the brick reclamation production line, Alan picked up and chipped in to clean up recovered bricks and stack them neatly for reuse. The Friends are hoping to use some of the frogless pressed bricks to repair the front wall in the near future as well as providing a store of imperial size bricks for minor repairs.

Taking turns, bookending the day, we brickies all, the crew rotated through the tasks, Steve and Nigel collecting brick hammers from the tool store and chipping in some more.

Wrong kind of trunks

Meanwhile, in the forestry services department Steve, Glen and John, with barrow work from Chris proceeded to clear up the top of the site.

Removing stumps, reducing the remaining rubble mounds and tackling some serious logging, in preparation for visitors at our forthcoming Heritage Open Days on Saturday 9th and Sunday 10th September.



Sizing up when digging down

Earlier in the day volunteer Nigel set to measuring the current state of the archaeological dig at the rear of the winding engine house (at the northern end of the site).

Tagging up the recent finds, measuring the buildings and the exposed stonework floor.

With trusty tape measure in hand, and an eye for a straight line, Nigel carefully drew out an accurate representation of the features before the Friends proceed to reveal further layers of archaeology on site.


Detailed measured drawings of the exposed stone paving.

Deep and meaningful

Back up top by the main shaft headgear, Friends Chair Steve revealed a piece of the pit’s past: the indicator board of the water shaft one man winder. Odd names picked out in lettering tease and confuse:

  • Top
  • Kent
  • Bottom

No, not the shipping forecast, but the levels in the pit shaft, Kent not being the county, but rather a seam of coal, and a level in the shaft with an inlet where pumping equipment was held.

Winding indicator board (water shaft) Top, Kent and Bottom

Below the board were three power gauges with bells, with similarly odd names:

  • Banksman
  • Kent
  • Barnsley

Kent we now know.

Barnsley rings a bell, but is the coal seam of that name, around 140 yards down, not the town. It’s the deepest working part of the pit, the bottom. The Barnsley seam, all 9 feet of its thickness, was the ‘gold’ mined throughout the South Yorkshire coalfield until its exhaustion. 

The need to prevent old Barnsley seam workings from flooding and affecting active pits nearby was the cause of the organisation that saved Hemingfield pit as a pumping station from May 1920 onwards.

Banksman is not a financial position, it’s much more important than that. Rather, it’s the name of the surface worker responsible for safely confirming the winding of workers going underground. The Banksman is the Top here. You should start and end your journey at bank, the shaft top.

The indicator board was removed from the site for safekeeping in the 1990s after the pumps stopped, the shafts were allowed to flood and the winder ceased to be used. See a  rare photo of the whole board in position, taken by the Friends Chair.

Electric winding indicator board for old water shaft (Photo credit: Steve Grudgings, 1997)

With the winding indicator screw wheel and indicator handle returned to site in October 2015, we now have all the elements to restore the indicator wall instruments.

Down the line

Our friends at Elsecar Heritage Railway keep the Friends and volunteers entertained with a steady and changing stream of locos, both steam and diesel coming down the line from Elsecar. This weekend William was on show and in steady steam, giving footplate experiences in the sunshine.

Ale and Arty

At the end of the day, with tools downed, site locked up, a delegation of the Friends proceeded to partake of the produce at the Elsecar by the Sea beer festival. Housed in Milton Hall, the village’s original covered market, the sandstone glowed in the evening sun and conversation flowed over a half or few.

Al fresco dining followed as the desk numbers settled and everyone enjoyed the last of the summer stout (or mild, or bitter, or pale ale, depending on your preference).

A topic of conversation and delight to the Friends all weekend was the creativity inspired by the pit.

Local artist and royal academician Iain Nicholls is continuing to bring a unique eye and skill to oil paintings of aspects of the site, and below we give some further samples of the beautiful lines and light he shines on the colliery.

Hemingfield Colliery (Slates) Iain Nicholls 2017, oil on aluminium, 11×14 inches

Hemingfield Colliery (Corrugated door), Iain Nicholls 2017, oil on aluminium, 11×14 inches

We look forward to reporting on Iain’s work, both in paint and with virtual reality as he prepares an exhibition of his work at a gallery in London.

Ice cream Sunday

Sunday was the last day of the festival, but a busy day for the Friends at the Elsecar Heritage Centre.  As families, young and old arrived to enjoy the seaside themed fun, live music filled the air, and performers toured the site entertaining visitors.

Heritage and mining groups were invited to present displays by the visitors centre at Elsecar, and the Friends were delighted to set up stall besides our friends from Barnsley Main Heritage Group, and alongside the dedicated team from Elsecar Heritage Centre and Barnsley Museums providing tours and games for families discovering Elsecar for the first time.

With a rarely-seen selection of photographs and documents showing the history of Hemingfield colliery and the pumping station, and some of the archaeological finds from our site digs, Friends Directors Glen and Christine were joined by volunteer Chris.

Part of the display materials (Photo credit: Christine Cameron)

The Friends had a lovely day meeting and greeting passers by, ex miners, young families, visitors from beyond our shores (outside of Barnsley). They were joined by two new volunteer supporters, Bill and his granddaughter who created a great buzz at the stall, engaging visitors to Elsecar and having fun whilst raising awareness and much needed funds for the restoration work on site.

Fun at the festival, volunteering at the Friends’ display (Photo credit: Christine Cameron)

The Friends took the opportunity to meet volunteers from other groups, and discuss the exciting plans for Elsecar as it begins its Heritage Action Zone programme of activities.

Raising awareness and having fun were the order of the day, and we were pleased to hear visitors planning to visit the site during the Heritage Open Days the following week. We’ll see you there come rain or come shine.

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